On this date in history, July 8, 1918, the iconic novelist Ernest Hemingway, then an 18-year-old ambulance driver for the American Red Cross, was struck by a mortar shell while serving on the Italian front, along the Piave delta, in World War I, noted History.com.
A native of Oak Park, Illinois, Hemingway was employed as a reporter for The Kansas City Star when war broke out in Europe in 1914, noted the same source.
Hemingway worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross in France before the American entry into the war in April 1917; he was subsequently transferred to the Italian front.
On the evening of July 8, 1918, Hemingway was struck by a mortar shell while handing out chocolate to Italian soldiers.
The incident knocked him unconscious; fragments of shell entered his right foot and his knee and struck his thighs, scalp and hand, according to History.com.
“Two Italian soldiers standing between Hemingway and the shell’s point of impact were not so lucky, however. One was killed instantly and another had both his legs blown off and died soon afterward,” the same source indicated.
Hemingway worked to secure the safety of his fellow soldiers, getting them out of harm’s way, according to The Ernest Hemingway Collection.
The Italian government awarded him the Silver Medal of Military Valor for his heroic actions, said the same source.
“A Farewell to Arms” is set amid WWI and weaves an enduring story of love and war.
Hemingway’s experiences in Italy during World War I are reported to have been an integral part of his larger-than-life persona, as well as provided the material for one of his best-loved novels, “A Farewell to Arms,” released in 1929.
It chronicles the love of a young American ambulance driver for a beautiful English nurse on the Italian front during the Great War, said History.com.
“A Farewell to Arms” weaves an enduring story of love and war while creating a historically accurate depiction of the Battle of Caporetto and fighting on the Italian front against German attacks, recounted the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
“What makes this novel so interesting is that a prominent portion of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ was written autobiographically,” noted the same source.
“Hemingway himself volunteered to be an ambulance driver on the Italian front during the First World War and served for 10 months in Europe. He experienced the harsh realities of war without serving as a soldier and even sustained injuries due to a mortar shelling on July 8, 1918.”
Hemingway was the first American awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Valor for carrying a wounded Italian soldier to safety, even though badly wounded himself, according to the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
“Due to his own injuries, Hemingway was transferred to a hospital in Milan and was rendered incapable of continuing his duties as an ambulance driver.”
“Due to his own injuries, Hemingway was transferred to a hospital in Milan and was rendered incapable of continuing his duties as an ambulance driver, which ultimately ended his tenure with the Red Cross,” the same source stated.
“A Farewell to Arms” tells how American lieutenant Frederic Henry, while working with the Italian ambulance service during World War I, meets English nurse Catherine Barkley, said Britannica.com.
“Although she still mourns the death of her fiancé, who was killed in the war, Catherine encourages Frederic’s advances,” the same source recounted.
“After he is badly wounded by a trench mortar shell near the Isonzo River in Italy, he is brought to a hospital in Milan, where he is eventually joined by Catherine.”
As he recovers, Catherine tends to him — and during this time, time their relationship deepens.
Henry confesses he’s in love with her, and Catherine soon becomes pregnant by Frederic, chronicles Britannica.com.
The storyline continues when a hospital employee discovers that Frederic has hid alcohol in his hospital room and he is sent back to the front.
Following the Battle of Caporetto (1917), he deserts the army, escaping execution by Italian military police.
He soon learns that she has been sent to Stresa, travels there by train — and reunites with Catherine.
Then, while in Milan, Frederic searches for Catherine.
He soon learns that she has been sent to Stresa, travels there by train — and reunites with Catherine. The pair flee Italy by crossing the border into neutral Switzerland, noted Britannica.com.
He and Catherine are arrested by Swiss border authorities, but the couple are permitted to stay in Switzerland.
After living together for a bit in Switzerland, Catherine goes into labor. Sadly, their son is born stillborn — and Catherine hemorrhages and dies.
The storyline for the book is based somewhat on Hemingway’s own experiences.
“Severely wounded, he recuperated in a Red Cross hospital in Milan where he fell in love with one of his nurses,” stated the National Endowment of the Arts.
“This relationship proved the model for Frederic and Catherine’s tragic romance in ‘A Farewell to Arms.’”
And, even though the end of the story was different than Hemingway’s life — both stories are tragic. “Both Hemingway and Frederic get left alone and hurt, without their love,” said the University of Michigan.
In 1953, Hemingway received the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952), a short heroic novel about an old Cuban fisherman who, after an extended struggle, hooks a giant marlin only to have it eaten by sharks during the long voyage home, according to Britannica.com.
In 1954, Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
The Swedish Academy, which presented the honor, said of the-then 55-year-old American author, in its citation: He was awarded the honor “for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration, as most recently evinced in ‘The Old Man and the Sea,’” according to The New York Times.
Hemingway was 61 years old when he died by suicide on July 2, 1961.